I have had some time to look through my record shots taken during an excellent afternoon yesterday (post > HERE <) birding at the Great Gaddesden side of Water End, just on the edge of Hemel Hempstead, & after analysing some distant record shots of an odd Pipit I saw I have a feeling that my suspicions may be correct, that it might in fact be a WATER PIPIT.
[NOTE 13/02/2012: I have had responses confirming my identification of WATER PIPIT from a number of people including David Darrell-Lambert who sent me a very useful ID guide he's written which can be read > HERE <.]
At 15.25, whilst stood talking to a lovely couple at TL 03338 10684, 35m SSW of the wooden bridge crossing the River Gade, a Pipit flew in from the S uttering a single sharp 'vueest' or 'fuisp' call. The bird alighted the hand rail of the wooden bridge & despite the poor misty light I could very obviously see two light wing-bars on each wing, a paler area around the secondaries, a light supercilium widening behind the eye, & very clean, pale underparts. The bird appeared generally cool greyish brown with darker flight feathers apart from the two white-looking wing bars & the mantle / back / scapulars which appeared to be a warmer, richer shade of brown, you could almost say 'slightly chestnut-tinged' in comparison to the rest of the bird & seemed to have no obvious streaking, coming across quite uniform. Apart from the whitish eye stripe, submoustachial stripe & throat the head was generally grey-brown but a hint darker on the crown & ear coverts. There seemed to be hardily any streaking or speckling to the breast or flanks, from the distance I was viewing from it just appeared like a light shading along the flanks, sides of the breast & where you'd expect a malar stripe to be. The rump appeared to be a bit paler than the rest of the birds back, it's legs appeared to be red-brown, & when the bird flew after 20 seconds or so, I saw white outer tail feathers (which can just be seen as corner tips in the photos) & the two thin wing bars on each wing before it disappeared out of sight, bounding off N over the trees surrounding the private fishing pool.
As it was hard to see all of the details in the dim light at that distance I thought it would be useful to grab a few record shots. I couldn't really see the preview image on my camera well enough at the time as I have a graze on my LCD & it was also misting up so I waited until I could view them on my computer. Despite them being very poor at that distance & high ISO they do show many of the features.
With the features noted & viewable in the photos I can't help but feel this bird is a WATER PIPIT. And interestingly, a few weeks ago I noted an odd looking Pipit at dusk that I failed to identify, which gave a similar single sharp call in a puddle beside the dried up stream less than 1 mile away NNW behind Wyevale Hemel Hempstead Garden Centre. I'm thinking this could have been the same bird & if so would mean it is wintering in the area.
Take a look at my record shots below to see what you think. Any comments or opinions are welcome & I apologise for the very poor quality of the pics in advance.
[NOTE 13/02/2012: After confirming the ID & the bird being subsequently refound today in the same area, by Samuel Perfect, I have had many messages asking for the precise location to look for the WATER PIPIT as well as the JACK SNIPE & WATER RAILS I'd seen there, plus the Drake PINTAIL that was still there at the time, originally found by Lucy Flower. To help in finding the birds I have created a map with precise locations & relevant info > HERE <.]
My write up of the afternoon at Water End is > HERE <.